SACRAMENTO -- Forward Ethan Esposito scored a career-high 22 points and the Hornets' nationally ranked defense held Portland State's high powered offense to just 55 points on the way to a 66-55 win over the Vikings on Thursday evening inside the Nest.
The Hornets lead the Big Sky, and rank third in the nation in scoring defense, and that D was up to the test tonight against a Portland State squad that was averaging a league-best 78.1 points per game. The Hornets limited Portland State to a season-low 55 points, and forced the Vikings into a season-high 25 turnovers.
Sacramento State attempted 20 more shots from the field and registered a season-best 14 steals. The Vikings shot a respectable 46% (19-41) from the field, but the Hornets' swarming defense forced 10 turnovers in the first half and 15 more in the second half. Of Sacramento State's 35 rebounds, 21 came on the offensive glass and the Hornets held advantages in points off turnovers (25-8), second chance points (15-9) and fast break points (18-8).
Sacramento State moved its record to 11-6 overall and 4-4 in the Big Sky Conference. The Hornets also continued their dominance at home, improving to 8-0 inside the Nest. In six of those games, the Hornets never trailed. Today's victory marked the first time in the program's Div. I era (1991-pres.) the Hornets have won their first eight home games of the season, and first time since the 1961-62 team posted a perfect 12-0 record at home. Dating back to 2012, the Hornets are now 75-30 inside the Nest, good for a .714 winning percentage.
Sacramento State avoided its first three-game losing streak of the season and the team's 11-6 record is the best 17-game mark since the 2014-15 squad also had an 11-6 record. That 2014-15 team finished the year with a 21-12 mark.
Portland State, which entered tonight as winners of three of its last four games, dropped to 10-11 overall and 4-5 in the Big Sky. The Hornets are now 14-10 all-time at home against the Vikings, including four straight wins inside the Nest.
The Hornets trailed by seven points (their largest deficit of the season at home) midway through the first half, but closed final 8:18 of the half on an 18-7 run to go into the break with a 27-23 lead. Sacramento State then opened the second half on an 11-4 run and led by at least six points the rest of the way. The Hornets went 13-of-14 from the free throw line in the second half, and opened up a lead as large as 13 points. Sacramento State led by at least nine points the final three minutes of the contest.
Sacramento State shot just 33% (20-61) from the field and 3-for-10 from the 3-point line, but was proficient from the free throw line (85%, 23-of-27). The Hornets had 13 assists on their 20 made buckets and had just 10 turnovers compared to PSU's 25 miscues.
Esposito had 14 of his 22 points in the second half and finished the game 6-for-16 from the field and 9-of-12 from the free throw line while also collecting five rebounds. The 22 points eclipsed his previous career high of 20, set last year against Simpson. Chibueze Jacobs played a career-high 30 minutes and finished with a season-best 12 points to go with seven rebounds, three assists and three blocked shots.
Center Joshua Patton scored in double figures for the 10th straight game, finishing with 12 points and five rebounds (four offensive). Bryce Fowler rounded out the four Hornets in double digits as the junior finished with 11 points and three rebounds on 4-of-6 shooting from the field and 2-for-2 from the 3-point line. Izayah Mauriohooho-Le'afa (5) and Osi Nwachukwu (4) combined to snag nine of the Hornets' 14 steals. Point guard Brandon Davis finished with six points, four assists and a steal.
Sacramento State limited Portland State's leading scorer Holland Woods (17.7 ppg) to just seven points on 2-of-8 shooting and eight turnovers. Sal Nuhu led the Vikings with 17 points, 10 rebounds and five blocked shots.
Today marked the first game of a stretch that will see the Hornets play three times over an 11-day span. Sacramento State will return to action on Monday when the team travels to Flagstaff to take on Northern Arizona at 5:05 p.m. PST.
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